Teen Suing Apple for $1 Billion Claiming Facial Recognition Led to False Arrest

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An eighteen-year-old student in New York is suing Apple for a staggering $1 billion after being falsely connected to a series of Apple Store thefts that occurred across several U.S. states, pointing to Apple’s facial recognition system as the cause of the problem.

According to Bloomberg and Law360, NYPD officers arrested Ousmane Bah at his home on November 29 at 4 a.m. after criminal complaints had been filed against him in Delaware, New Jersey, and New York. Bah’s lawsuit notes that the police executed the arrest despite the fact that the photo of the suspect included on the arrest warrant did not resemble Bah.

However, it’s unclear whether the officers involved had actually seen the physical warrant before conducting the arrest, as New York State Law does not require an arrest warrant to be in the possession of the physical warrant in order to execute an arrest. Following the arrest, an NYPD detective named Reinhold realized that the person identified by Apple’s security cameras “looking nothing like” Bah, resulting in the charges being dropped in every state except New Jersey, where charges remain pending. According to the lawsuit, Detective Reinhold also explained that Apple’s security technology uses facial recognition to identify suspects, and speculated that Apple must have tied Bah’s name to the face of the actual offender, likely through the use of false identification.

Bah alleges that he was falsely identified as a result of Apple’s facial recognition systems after somebody else used Bah’s lost temporary learner’s permit — which did not include a photo — to identify himself during a theft at an Apple Store in Boston. Bah had previously received a summons arraignment to appear in a Boston municipal court on a $1,200 larceny charge from May 31, 2018 for “the theft of multiple Apple products, specifically Apple pencils.” As the lawsuit notes, Bah had never been to Boston at that point, and in fact was at his senior prom in Manhattan on the night when the alleged offence had occurred.

Bah responded to the summons, appearing in the Boston court for arraignment on June 27, 2018, where he was presented with a police report that stated that an employee of Security Industry Specialists (SIS), a loss prevention company contracted by Apple, and also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, had “witnessed a suspect steal Apple pencils on a security video” at the downtown Boston Apple Store. The employee in question, John Beswick, noted that he witness the suspect fleeing the store and driving away in a white BMW, and also told police that he knew Bah from a previous arrest for thefts from an Apple Store location in Connecticut.

Bah’s lawyers made a motion to obtain Apple’s surveillance videos, however according to the lawsuit, Apple indicated that the video did not exist because the company “habitually does not keep records of any responsive information after an arrest is made.” It was later revealed, however, that the video surveillance evidence did in fact exist, and it was later released to the Boston District Attorney, resulting in the dismissal of all charges against Bah.

Following the arraignment, Bah was released on his own recognizance, however shortly after returning home to New York, he received additional paperwork showing that he had been accused of several additional charges for similar thefts in other states, all of which he believes are based on his face being identified by in-store facial recognition systems used by Apple.

[Apple’s] use of facial recognition software in its stores to track individuals suspected of theft is the type of Orwellian surveillance that consumers fear, particularly as it can be assumed that the majority of consumers are not aware that their faces are secretly being analyzed at [Apple’s] stores.

Bah v. Apple et al

Bah’s lawsuit filing sweepingly condemns Apple’s use of facial recognition technology as “Orwellian surveillance that consumers fear” — pointing to its implementation of Face ID on its consumer products as examples of how Apple is trying to make consumers comfortable with facial recognition, and stating that Apple’s “normalization of this type of technology is in many way irresponsible and dangerous.” [sic]. The lawsuit even goes on to allege that Apple has plans to include longer-range 3D cameras that could be used to collect crowdsourced facial recognition data of “unsuspecting passersby.”

Although Face ID may not seem “Orwellian” on its face, its implications are far-reaching, and Defendant’s normalization of this type of technology is in many way irresponsible and dangerous.

Bah v. Apple et al

Notably, however, while Apple and its loss prevention agents clearly erred in the handling of the situation, the lawsuit offers no solid evidence that it was the fault of facial recognition systems in mis-identifying Bah, as opposed to simply normal human error. Certainly, John Beswick, the loss prevention employee involved in the Boston case, believed that Bah was the perpetrator based on the evidence of his own eyes, and presumably security surveillance camera footage from other Apple Store thefts could be viewed by normal human eyeballs and come to the same conclusion.

The lawsuit states that Apple “negligently tied Mr. Bah’s name with the wrong face,” and presumably accepted the proffered learner’s permit as the actual suspect’s identification, “despite clear discrepancies” between the information on the identification and the actual suspect’s physical appearance. Again, however, these clearly sound like issues related to human error on the part of Apple’s employees — who arguably should not have accepted a learner’s permit as identification in the first place, as the document clearly states that it is not to be used for identification purposes.

In short, the lawsuit is making the assumption that Apple is employing facial recognition technology in its stores based on comments from the NYPD detective investigating the case, as well as Apple’s development of consumer-facing facial recognition technology such as Face ID, but again provides no evidence that this is even the case, much less that facial recognition was the cause of the false accusations. Apple itself of course has declined to comment on the case.

Through no fault of his own, and completely as a result of Defendant’s negligent conduct and unlawful actions, Mr. Bah found himself in facing serious criminal charges.

Bah v. Apple et al

Bah is seeking $1 billion in damages as a result of “severe emotional distress” caused by Apple’s “several unlawful and negligent actions,” adding that Bah, who has never previously been in trouble with the police, was left “feeling humiliated, afraid, and deeply concerned.” In the lawsuit, Apple is being specifically accused of general negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, defamation, slander, libel, and fraudulent concealment — the last allegation claiming that Apple “intended to defraud Mr. Bah” by initially failing to provide video surveillance in the Boston case, knowingly withholding exculpatory evidence in order to avoid admitting that it had charged the wrong individual.

In addition to damages, the lawsuit is also requesting the court to order Apple to admit that it “wrongfully and baselessly damaged the highly valued reputation of Plaintiff” as well as ordering Apple to “cease all behaviour that can lead to falsely implicating innocent individuals of crimes perpetrated against it.”

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